Stigma 'gets Under The Skin,' But Does It 'get To The Heart?' Sexual Orientation As A Determinant Of Social Relationship Outcomes
Some past work indicates that sexual minorities may experience impaired social relationship outcomes relative to heterosexuals. However, a number of limitations of the extant literature imply the need for further work on potential social relationship disparities. Furthermore, if potential disparities are indeed confirmed, researchers should begin to investigate etiologic mechanisms, including both risk and protective factors. The primary aim of Study 1 was to gauge potential disparities in social relationship outcomes (i.e., social network size, loneliness, relationship strain and social capital) based upon sexual orientation among adults in the United States. Consistent with hypotheses, across each of these measures sexual minorities reported impaired social relationship outcomes relative to heterosexuals. Study 1 also explored whether perceived discrimination and structural discrimination may be involved in producing these disparities. Confirming hypotheses, controlling for perceived discrimination attenuated disparities across three of the four social relationship outcomes. Furthermore, among sexual minorities structural discrimination moderated the association between perceived discrimination and both social relationship strain and loneliness. The primary aim of Study 2 was to test both risk and protective factors stemming from the experience of social devaluation that may be tied to social relationship outcomes among sexual minorities. Specifically, indirect paths from perceived discrimination to social relationship strain through emotional suppression, chronic inflammation and group identification were examined. Study 2 built upon Study 1 by explicating stigma-related variables that potentially exacerbate (suppression, inflammation) and attenuate (group identification) social relationship disparities for sexual minorities. Partial support for the proposed model was found in Study 2. While the pathway through emotional suppression was supported, there was mixed support for the pathway through chronic inflammation and poorer support for the pathway through group identification. Finally, results from these two complementary studies are synthesized and implications for public policy, programmatic interventions and efforts to build resilience among sexual minorities are discussed.